The best pre-workout supplements to help you overcome gym fatigue


Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Pre-workout supplements: A new dawn

Everyone needs a workout. There are many reasons your body needs good exercise. Some people don’t need a reason to hit the gym. Fitness has become a way of life. It really should be if you want to stay in shape, excel at the sports you play, and maintain your health. However, you must ensure that you have started your fitness journey and are getting it right. If you are doing intensive exercises, it is often recommended that you take a pre-workout supplement.

When it comes to pre-workout health foods, the days of the simple banana and the toast are long gone. Bananas or toast just won’t do before a heavy workout. You would have heard someone at the gym say they forgot their pre-workout supplement. That is what really matters to most people now.  A pre-workout supplement is a supplement taken before you hit those weights that really help you to get more out of your exercise. How the pre-workout supplement helps you in your workout depends on what supplement you take.

Again, not all pre-workout supplements are the same. Each pre-workout supplement differs from the other with respect to the ingredients it has. Some pre-workout supplements may not have the ingredients you want at all. Some of them will not even have the ingredients that are listed on the labels. It would be a good idea to buy pre-workout supplements from trusted sources only. Though some pre-workout supplements contain carbs, most of them are carb-free and calorie-free.

Pre-workout supplements: Do you need them?

But do you really need a pre-workout supplement? This is not an easy question to answer. It also depends on your eating habits, what you expect to gain from exercise, and your physical constitution. If you expect to gain more from exercise, pre-workout supplements could be beneficial for you.

What are the common pre-workout supplements?

Caffeine

Several pre-workout supplements contain caffeine because it is a stimulant and enhances the performance of athletics and exercise. It also affects your central nervous system, your heart, and your muscles as well.

Citrulline

Other non-essential amino acids like citrulline are also common additives in pre-workout supplements. A non-essential amino acid is an amino acid that can be made by the human body in sufficient amounts to sustain its growth and development. It, therefore, does not require you to take supplements that contain it. In fact, you are required to have only protein sources that are rich in the essential amino acids. ‘

Beta-alanine

It is a non-essential amino acid that is produced by the body. It converts to carnosine. Carnosine is a compound that then helps to increase muscle endurance in intensive exercises.

Creatine

Creatine is a popular sports supplement that is used by many as a pre-work supplement. It is a chemical that is found mostly in the muscles of the body and the brain as well. It is found in red meat and other foods. It can be synthesized in the laboratory as well. There is evidence that creatine may be useful in low amount for young, healthy people who wish to improve athletic performance.

Caffeine as a pre-workout supplement

Caffeine is a chemical found in over 60 plants in nature. It is found in coffee and cocoa beans, kola nut, yerba mate, tea leaves, etc. It is used in soft drinks, in tea and coffee and other common medicinal remedies as well. The main source of caffeine for adults is coffee and tea, whereas for children it is soft drinks.

Caffeine was initially present in plants as a micronutrient and quite possibly an insecticide. Studies show that caffeine is quite harmful to several insects and also to herbivores when ingested. Thus caffeine actually helped the plant protect itself against animals that may want to eat it.

Caffeine affects both the cardiovascular system and the nervous system in the human body. It can also act as a water pill, making the body urinate more frequently. Its effects are therefore being researched worldwide. In people doing moderate exercise, drinking coffee or taking small amounts of caffeine does not cause dehydration. However, drinking too much coffee could lead to caffeine intoxication, which could be dangerous.

Since it acts on the central nervous system, muscles, heart, and other systems that affect blood pressure, it can lead to an increase in blood pressure. In people who regularly drink coffee or take caffeine though it may not lead to an increase in blood pressure.

Does caffeine improve exercise performance?

Caffeine, when taken as a pre-workout supplement has several benefits. According to a study, caffeine was able to improve the exercise performance of individuals focused on exercises of the leg muscles, but there was no effect on the upper body.

Similarly, another study marked enhancement in individuals performing the bench press, but there was no such improvement in those doing a small sprint. In the lifting of weights, according to another study, caffeine may help increase the number of repetitions possible at a certain weight.

It seems like caffeine helps as a pre-work supplement in power exercises and in those that require a number of repetitions.

How much caffeine must you take as a pre-workout supplement?

Studies have proven that a person would need to take about 200-400 mg on average, though some studies recommend that they take around 600-900 mg of caffeine.  The amount of caffeine you take depends not just upon your body weight but also your tolerance levels.

Another key point is on that of tolerance. If you take large amounts of caffeine over an extended period, there will be a tolerance that is built up over a period. This tolerance will not let you be as sensitive to the effects of caffeine as you normally would be.

This means that even if you do take caffeine as a pre-workout supplement, do so sparingly and when you think that you really need a boost.  You could take it about 60 minutes before a workout or an event for best performance.

What are the side effects of too much caffeine?

There is always a debate on how much is too much caffeine. Scientists are still not sure. However, a few side effects of too much caffeine have been observed. They are:

  • Nausea – probably a result of the acids present in coffee affecting the lining of the stomach
  • Headache- probably a result of the effect of coffee on the central nervous system
  • Restlessness – caffeine increases adrenaline levels inducing flight or fight response
  • Tremors – caused by the effect of caffeine on the central nervous system
  • Dizziness – caused by acids present in the coffee affecting the stomach
  • Anxiety – might be triggered by an increase in blood pressure levels
  • Insomnia – caused by caffeine blocking the sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain

Who must avoid caffeine supplements?

Those who are prone to anxiety or those who are on anxiety medications must not take caffeine supplements. People who are having hypertension must also try to avoid caffeine supplements.

Try not to take them within two to three hours of sleep, as this can affect your sleep. If you have trouble finding sleep or have faced insomnia in the past, it is advisable not to take caffeine supplements. Pregnant and breastfeeding women must also avoid caffeine supplements.

Should you take caffeine supplements?

As mentioned earlier, caffeine supplements must be taken only before a heavy workout or an event. It also benefits people who do power exercises or those who do repeated exercises. Taking caffeine supplements too often can cause you to develop tolerance toward it.

Your reduced sensitivity to caffeine will prevent you from reaping its benefits when you really need it. Too much of it can also cause sleeplessness, nausea, headache, etc. Take it in the right amounts and it is very rewarding indeed for your body. Your body might actually thank you for it.

Citrulline as a pre-workout supplement

Citrulline, as discussed earlier, is a non-essential amino acid and therefore can be synthesized by the body. Then why should we take supplements that contain citrulline? Citrulline supplements can help make up for the deficiency of citrulline that the body may have.  Citrulline differs from other amino acids in the sense that it is not used in the synthesis of protein. It plays instead of an important role in the urea cycle, which helps to get rid of urea from the body. It also plays an important role in muscle building and in the dilation of the blood vessels to allow more blood to flow to your tissues.

Citrulline as a pre-workout supplement can be present in two forms:

L-Citrulline: L-Citrulline supplements contain citrulline by itself. There is nothing attached to citrulline in these supplements.

Citrulline Malate: Citrulline malate supplements contain both citrulline and malate. In these supplements, it cannot be sure whether the benefits of the supplements are because of citrulline or malate. Citrulline malate is the supplement most commonly used by sports stars and athletes.

Does Citrulline improve exercise performance?

Citrulline does improve exercise performance. This is the reason why it is added to several pre-workout supplements that you get to buy at your local store. One of the main ways how it improves exercise performance is by vasodilation (stretching of the blood vessels). Vasodilation leads to increased blood flow to the muscles. But citrulline does not directly do this. Instead, after some citrulline is used, what remains is converted into arginine, another amino acid that is necessary for the body. Arginine converts to nitric oxide. The molecules of nitric oxide actually cause vasodilation. This vasodilation is probably the reason for the performance increase in exercises.

As mentioned earlier, citrulline is not used in protein synthesis, but it can help in activating the signaling pathways that lead to protein synthesis. It can also stop the liver from breaking down other amino acids that may be necessary for protein synthesis. Since proteins contribute directly to building muscle mass, there are other ways in which citrulline proves beneficial.

How much citrulline must you take as a pre-workout supplement?

The amount of citrulline you need to take would depend on your exercise requirement and also in what form you are taking it. If you are taking citrulline in its pure form, that is L-Citrulline, then you would need to take 3-6 grams of L-Citrulline. If you take it in its combination form with malate, you can take up to 8 grams a day.  Compare this with caffeine. That is a lot more citrulline that you can take every day as opposed to caffeine, nearly ten times.

It generally is the same measure of citrulline malate that is used in weight training. L-Citrulline in its suggested measure is also used to improve blood pressure, apart from weight training.

In addition, a slightly higher dose of 10 grams of L-citrulline also does not affect the body adversely. This is because citrulline is better tolerated than other amino acids by the stomach.

What are the side effects of citrulline?

Citrulline has no known side effects. At least none has been reported so far. In fact, a study involved people taking doses ranging from as little as 2 grams of L-Citrulline to as high as 15 grams of it. No significant side effects were reported. This means that citrulline is generally very safe at higher than recommended doses as well.

However, it was observed in the study that when the citrulline doses were higher than 10 grams, the arginine levels did not increase correspondingly. This means that there is a definite limit to how much citrulline is required by the body. This also shows that doses of citrulline that are higher than 10 grams are not only not beneficial, they are also not necessary.

Last but not least, blood analysis and other tests performed on the study participants revealed no detrimental effects on the body. The blood pressure levels remained normal as was the functioning of the body.

Who should not take citrulline supplements?

Since no study to date has revealed that citrulline supplements can be bad in higher doses or even for a group of people, it seems to be okay for everyone. It is in fact advised in people with heart conditions. So why should most people worry?

However, no study has proven it is okay for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers to take citrulline supplements. Therefore, it would help to restrict or avoid their use in such cases.

Should you take citrulline as a pre-workout supplement?

Citrulline seems to be like something out of a dream. There does not seem to be any side effects and it seems to do only good for the body. It helps to improve your blood pressure and it is even recommended for people with heart conditions. It helps in improving the performance of exercises. It increases the oxygen content in the muscles for people who feel weak.  In this way, it is actually so much more than a pre-workout supplement.

Beta-alanine as a pre-workout supplement

Beta-alanine is available in supplement form as capsules and powders. It was concluded by a study that the powder forms of beta-alanine typically had more beta alanine than the capsule forms. This is because the capsule forms contained many unnecessary fillers and extras that don’t really help exercise. Where typically you would need to take 5-6 capsules to get the ideal dose of beta-alanine is about 3-4 grams of beta-alanine, lesser powder (about two servings) was required. Many useful supplements also add caffeine, vitamin B, and amino acids to the mix, which also help. The additional ingredients that simply add to the volume and serve no purpose are artificial coloring and flavoring agents.

Does beta alanine improve exercise performance?

Carnosine is a combination of L-histidine and beta-alanine. Usually, the L-histidine levels are high and the beta alanine levels are low. Taking beta-alanine supplements help improve these levels and enhances exercise performance. A beta-alanine supplementation study was conducted on sprinters participating in a 400-m sprint. It was observed that carnosine levels increased in the leg muscles by about 37% as compared to the placebo group.

How does this happen? The body gains energy from the breakdown of glucose. This is called glycolysis. This is the source of energy when you are doing very intensive exercise. The glucose gets broken down into lactic acid. The lactic acid is converted into lactate. Some hydrogen ions are released during this conversion. These H+ ions increase the Ph levels. This makes the muscles more acidic and prone to fatigue when doing heavy exercise. The carnosine works against the acid in the muscles, reducing the fatigue when doing very intensive exercise.

How much beta-alanine must you take as a pre-workout supplement?

Beta-alanine is a quick stimulant. Because of this, it is good to take beta-alanine as a pre-workout supplement. Also, carnosine builds up over time in the muscles. It, therefore, would be a good idea to wait for about a week before you see results from beta-alanine supplementation.

Your body would be better suited for workouts if the supplementation of beta-alanine is about 3-4 grams of beta-alanine spread over three doses. You must ensure that the dose stays at about this much. This is because if the supplementation is reduced, then the carnosine concentration in the body also drops.

What are the side effects of beta alanine?

Moderate doses of beta-alanine have not been reported to lead to any side effects. However, high doses of beta-alanine can cause flushing and tingling. There are no studies regarding how safe beta alanine is for pregnant or breastfeeding women. It would, therefore, be better to avoid its use for the sake of safety.

Higher doses of beta-alanine have also been reported to cause itching and a burning sensation on the ears and on the scalp. If you have any side effects from taking beta-alanine, then you must reduce your daily dose. You can reduce it from the recommended 3 grams to about 1 gram to ensure that you don’t have any of these side effects.

Who should not take beta-alanine supplements?

Beta-alanine supplements are usually taken by adults who are into bodybuilding. So it may not be useful for children unless they are doing intensive exercise. The effects of beta-alanine have not been studied on pregnant and breastfeeding women. Therefore, it is advised that pregnant women not take beta-alanine supplements.

Should you take beta-alanine as a pre-workout supplement?

Beta-alanine helps reduce muscle fatigue when taken as a pre-workout supplement for intensive exercises. This makes it very beneficial for those who perform these exercises. However, the benefit of beta-alanine does not extend to improving endurance or speed. It is also not suitable in high doses and can cause side effects. It may have side effects for the recommended dose of 3 grams as well. If this is the case, then you must reduce the dose. When a suitable dose of beta-alanine is taken and the right time, it can be very beneficial for you. It is a supplement you cannot ignore if you are hitting the gym regularly and performing heavy exercises.

Creatine as a pre-workout supplement

Scientists first recommended creatine back in the 1970s. Later, it quickly caught on with the athletes and sports stars who started using it to improve their speed and strength. It became especially popular even among high school hockey and football players.

Creatine as a pre-workout supplement helps to improve lean muscle mass and improve strength. It also helps to recover quickly from very intensive exercise. A majority of sports nutrition supplements in use in the USA today contain creatine.

Does creatine improve exercise performance?

Creatine provides the energy that muscles need to work. It is particularly beneficial for vegetarians because they have lower levels of creatine. Therefore, creatine supplements will help boost the levels of creatine in their bodies. However, taking creatine beyond a point does not help, as there is a level of saturation it reaches in the body. In addition, it is observed that not everyone’s muscles respond to creatine in the same way. Some do not really benefit from creatine supplements as do others.

It is noteworthy that creatine has not been studied as much by researchers despite being a very popular ingredient in many health supplements. However, what scientists have confirmed by studies is its utility for high-intensity exercises.

How does creatine work? Creatine is a natural substance that converts to creatine phosphate in the body. Creatine phosphate is involved in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body. ATP is broken down to release energy in the body. It provides energy, particularly for muscle contractions.

How much creatine must you take as a pre-workout supplement?

For building muscle strength, the maintenance dose varies. The maintenance dose is the dose take after a week to maintain the creatine in your system at optimum levels. The loading dose is generally around 20 grams for 4 to 7 days. After this, you may take a maintenance dose for the remaining duration of your workout, which is anywhere from 1 to 25 grams.

For the exact number that you must use as a maintenance dose, please consult a certified trainer. In addition, in the case of older adults, merely the addition of creatine does not help strengthen muscles. It must be combined with resistance training.

What are the side effects of creatine?

A study has shown that one can take up to 10 grams of creatine a day for up to 5 years without any side effects. However, as mentioned earlier, the way different people use creatine in their bodies is different. This means that a lower dose if 4-5 grams over a period of 14 days is likely safer. After this initial loading, you might need a lower maintenance dose. How much you would need to take as a maintenance dose depends on your trainer’s advice.  A higher dose of creatine is known to cause muscle cramping, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, dehydration, weight gain, water retention etc.

Who should not take creatine?

Creatine is very beneficial to athletes and bodybuilders. However, it is not suitable for those who have kidney disease. If you are suffering from kidney disease, then you must avoid creatine. If you already take any nephrotoxic drugs (drugs harmful to the kidneys), taking creatine will increase their effectiveness. Also, if you generally take caffeine, it might reduce the efficacy of creatine. If you are a regular coffee drinker, then too creatine may not be for you.

Should you take creatine as a pre-workout supplement?

Creatine must not be taken as a pre-workout supplement if you are regularly on caffeine supplements or if you obtain caffeine from food sources.  This is because its efficacy is reduced.  You must also not take creatine if you have kidney disease (failure or infection) or if other nephrotoxic drugs are on your list of medications. Also, avoid creatine beyond a certain dose, as prescribed by your fitness coach. Staying cautious will help you to achieve the muscle mass you have always wanted with lesser risk.

Which pre-workout supplement should you take?

Going back to the beginning, should you take a pre-workout supplement at all? Most people think that you would need a pre-workout supplement if you have a medical condition and are unable to have certain foods. However, this is not true. Pre-workout supplements have a wide array of benefits, which range from muscle strength to endurance building to even weight loss.

A combination of supplements can also be used, though this means that you may not be getting the right quantities of what you want. You may not be getting enough of any of them. Whenever you get a pre-workout supplement be sure to read on all the ingredients that it contains and how much of each too. Certain combinations are also not recommended if you take them together.

So pick a supplement depending on what you hope to gain from it. Be well aware of its side effects. Please make sure you are not at risk when you use it. Use it at the specified dose and work hard to make the most of it at the gym. Always consult your trainer both before taking the supplement and before the exercise. Hope you have a pleasant day at the gym and that the workout does you a world of good.


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